If you’re new to the world of flying drones, you may have heard someone recommend that you practice your flight skills on a drone flight simulator rather than on a real drone. While this may not sound nearly as exciting, it’s actually pretty good advice.
Drones don’t come cheap, especially as you get to the higher-end models, and it’s never fun to see your investment crash into a tree, or land in the lake just because you lack finesse at the controls. A flight simulator can help you avoid the frustration of a damaged drone while giving you the flight experience you need.
What is a drone flight simulator?
A drone flight simulator is a computer-based software designed to replicate the experience of flying a drone in real life. In a flight simulator, you use a controller connected to the computer in order to control the drone on-screen.
In most cases, you run a flight simulator on a Mac or PC, although in some cases you can use a tablet or smartphone for your flight simulation. Most flight simulators will allow you to select the type of drone you are simulating, and choose flight modes based on the skills you want to develop.
There are two main different types of flight simulator programs out there, intended for different purposes. Any drone flight simulator can help you improve your flying, but different ones target different types of flight skills.
The first type aims to help train commercial drone pilots and improve their skills with inspections, photography, videography, etc. The second type, and these are probably the most plentiful, are aimed at providing an introduction to or improving FPV drone racing skills.
Reasons to use a drone flight simulator
The biggest reason to use a drone flight simulator is to avoid damaging your drone while learning to fly. On the simulator, when you crash, you simply pick up where you left off, or start over again. But this isn’t the only benefit of using a flight simulator. Here are a few other reasons using a flight simulator is a great idea.
- You don’t need to wait for good weather. With a flight simulator, you can practice your drone flying even when it’s pouring down rain outside, or snowy, or freezing cold, or blustery, or… you get the idea.
- You can get started learning without all the gear. The drone hobby can get a bit expensive, especially once you factor in the drone itself, the FPV goggles, the radio controller, etc. With a flight simulator, you can start learning the ropes even before you’ve saved up enough to get all the gear you eventually want to have.
- It’s a great training tool. For professionals, flight simulators are a great way to learn new skills in photography and videography, as well as at the control sticks. For FPV racers, it’s a great way to put in training time without putting wear and tear on your kit.
- You won’t run out of battery. When you’re out flying, you’ve only got about a max of 30 minutes of flight time. Even if you have spare batteries, your flight time is limited. When you come home to charge up the batteries, you can get more “flight time” in on the sim without having to watch for the low battery warning.
- It’s fun. Just like flying a drone is fun, flying on a virtual program is simply a lot of fun. It has its differences of course, in terms of the feel of the controls and the visual experience, but it’s still a fun way to spend a few hours, while also improving your real-life skills.
9 Best Drone Flight Simulators
|Flight Simulator||Best for||Cost||Supported Devices|
|Liftoff by Immersion RC||FPV racing||$19.99||Windows PC and Mac|
|Velocidrone||FPV racing||~$23 (£16.99)||Windows PC, Mac, and Linux|
|FPV Freerider App||FPV racing||$5.00||Windows PC, Mac, and Linux|
|DRL Sim 3.0 Drone Racing Simulator||FPV racing||$9.99||Windows PC and Mac|
|FPV Air 2 Simulator||FPV racing||$4.99||Windows PC|
|DJI Drone Simulator||Professionals, hobbyists||$1,350||Windows PC|
|Zephyr Drone Simulator||Professionals, hobbyists||$75 (Professional Technical Flights Package. Package prices vary.)||Windows PC and Mac|
|droneSimPro Drone Flight Simulator||Professionals, hobbyists||$29.99||Windows PC and Mac|
|RealFlight RF9.5 Drone Simulator||Professionals, hobbyists||$179.99 (with Spektrum radio) or $99.99 software only||Windows PC|
1. Liftoff by Immersion RC
- Game style flight simulator with good graphics, a lot of quad choices and customizable maps.
- Competitive events and leaderboards in the game.
- FPV style drone flight experience for experienced pilots or newbies.
- Steam Workshop support enables you to download other users’ customized quads and maps.
- Over 16 race-course flying environments.
- Supports FPV goggles and radio controllers for more real-world flight experience.
- Available for Xbox and Playstation 4, and also available on Steam.
Liftoff is a dedicated FPV simulator/game, great for getting your head in the game with FPV flight. Good graphics, and the ability to customize your quad make it even more life-like, along with compatibility with FPV goggles and radio transmitters. Even though the flight controls aren’t exactly how they feel in real life, it’s still a good practice experience.
The relatively low cost of the simulator at $19.99 is a great way to save the cost of repairs on a crashed quad for those just starting out with FPV. It’s easy enough to use for a complete newbie to get a feel for FPV, and realistic enough to give experienced pilots a satisfying practice session.
This feels a lot more like a game and less like an actual flight simulation to the purist. Notwithstanding, it still gives a realistic FPV experience and the ability to practice your flight skills in a way that applies in the real world.
Physics are not super, and the quad tends to feel a little floaty, as is a common issue with most game-style simulators.
Liftoff is limited to FPV and the drone racing arena. If you want to practice other kinds of flight skills or even aerial photography on a simulator, this isn’t the one for you.
- FrSky Taranis
- Playstation controller
- Xbox controller
- Drone flight simulator designed specifically for FPV drone racing.
- Good physics with a high degree of customizability for a life-like flight experience.
- A lot of preset quad options, with the freedom to adjust parameters to replicate your own quad.
- Preset tracks compel you to fly in and around obstacles.
- Customizable tracks give innumerable options of places and courses to fly.
- Multiplayer mode to race against friends online.
- Premium content available for upgraded purchases.
Velocidrone is one of the best game-based FPV flight simulators in terms of the physics and ability to customize your quad and your flight environment. The flight controls and customizability make practice flights with the program feel very realistic, for better transfer to the real world.
Despite, or really because of, the slightly lower level graphics than some of the other simulators, Velocidrone is able to run on older or less powerful computers, so you don’t need to have a good gaming system to be able to run the program.
Although a game-based simulator, Velocidrone feels less video-gamey, with more of a performance-based flight approach. That’s not to say it’s less fun or interactive, as you can still race against your friends, and participate in leaderboards if you want.
One great aspect of Velocidrone is the compatibility with almost any USB controller. Use the one you already have, just plug in, configure, and you’re ready to play.
One possible sticking point with Velocidrone is its comparatively high price, going for £16.99, which is around $20-$25 dollars. You also have the option to purchase upgraded premium content for more flight environments and game modes.
Another possible cause for hesitation with Velocidrone is that it’s not available on Steam, making upgrades a bit less streamlined and automatic, but then again, if you don’t want to upgrade, there’s nothing making you.
- Any USB connectable controller
Learn more about Velocidrone, or purchase your license here.
3. FPV Freerider App
- Lightweight software for beginner FPV pilots.
- Able to run on older PCs due to basic level graphics, etc.
- Offers line-of-sight and FPV flight modes.
- Supports both acro mode and angle mode.
- Six pre-designed tracks or option to build your own.
- Customizable control responsiveness, drone weight, and camera speed.
- Free demo version limited to a single track.
One of the biggest benefits of FPV Freerider is the low cost, at only $5. At this price, there’s no reason not to try it out, and get started with the benefits of practicing on a flight simulator. Even just to spend a half hour or more orienting yourself to the FPV experience before trying out your quad on a real course is easily worth the $5 if it will prevent crashes.
Another big benefit of this program is its lightweight nature. If you’re just looking to get a bit of practice in before starting out with FPV, and not looking for an advanced simulator, you can easily use this one without needing to upgrade your old computer system.
Also nice about FPV Freerider is the fact that it is compatible with a wide range of radio and gaming controllers, so you can fly while getting the feel of your real-life controls.
FPV Freerider is definitely a beginner FPV flight simulator, which you will quickly outgrow with any real degree of experience. Although there is a small amount of customization in terms of controls and quad functions, it’s pretty limited, and this will limit how real-life-like your flights will be.
One common criticism of FPV Freerider is that the actual flight controls and overall experience is not very life-like or even user-friendly. Having a hard time getting smooth control of your quad in the simulator can be frustrating, but before you let it put you off, rest assured that if you can master the flight controls in the app, you will probably have an easier time of it with the real thing.
FPV Freerider is another drone simulator that is strictly designed for FPV flight and racing. If you’re looking to develop other areas of your drone skills, you’ll be better off looking at one of the other simulators.
- FrSKY Taranis
- Graupner and Futaba RC radios
- Realflight and Esky USB Controllers
- Xbox, Playstation and Logitech gamepads
Learn more about FPV Freerider, or download the app here.
4. DRL Sim 3.0 Drone Racing Simulator
- Precise aerodynamics and advanced physics for a very life-like flight experience.
- Real-life DRL race courses to practice on.
- Advanced customization of racing quad and flight features.
- Multiplayer racing and events.
- Tutorials designed to help you learn to navigate courses and obstacles.
- Entryway into the DRL for top performing players in the simulator.
- Available on Xbox, Playstation and Steam.
The real-life flight experience with the DRL racing simulator is up there among the best. The advanced physics and high degree of customizability make for a very good simulator experience. The real-life practice environments are also a huge plus if you’re aiming to race with the pros.
While not specifically a training course, the extensive tutorials included in the simulator can really help you up your game. And the gaming aspect of the DRL simulator makes the journey fun and exciting, just like real FPV racing.
As an added plus, if you really have your sights set on racing drones in the big time, putting in a lot of hours with the simulator can have a real payoff. Consistent high performers in the DRL simulator events and competitions will be recruited to the league.
The DRL Racing Simulator is the cream of the crop when it comes to a simulator to develop your FPV racing skills. However, if you’re looking for practice with FPV flight, and not so much into the racing scene, the competitive aspect can feel like it’s getting in the way.
- Any USB connectable controller
Learn more about the DRL Drone Racing Simulator, or download here.
5. FPV Air 2
- Good simulator for beginner FPV pilots.
- Basic graphics and decent physics given the low cost.
- Customizable physics, and Betaflight-like GUI.
- Multiplayer mode to race against friends.
- Ultra-low graphics mode allows it to run smoothly on an old/slow PC.
- Additional maps and content available for purchase.
For a low-cost, beginner level FPV flight simulator, FPV Air 2 has surprisingly good physics. You can also play around with settings to try to replicate your specific quad and make your flight even more life-like. And multiplayer mode gives the opportunity to race against friends to help your race training skills.
The graphics, while relatively low quality, do make it possible to run this program on almost any laptop or PC, so if you don’t have a gaming setup and just want to do some basic FPV training, you should be all set.
The best selling point of FPV Air 2 is the low cost. For less than $5, you can get a really good FPV flight training experience.
If the quality of game graphics is important to you, you might find the very basic level scenery in this simulator distracting. And while there are a number of courses to choose from, their level of interactivity is somewhat limited, without a lot of room to explore. It’s also a bit irritating that you have to purchase additional tracks.
- Turnigy Evolution
- And more
Learn more about FPV Air 2 or download on Steam here.
6. DJI Drone Simulator
- Professional and enterprise level drone pilot training software.
- DJI’s unique flight control technology is adapted to create a realistic simulated flying experience.
- Good visuals and a life-like environment with realistic wind and terrain effects on flight.
- Three simulated flight modes and multiple POVs for comprehensive training experience.
- Three training modules including skills training, free flight, and application training.
- Most DJI models replicated include: Mavic series, Phantom series, Inspire series and Matrice 200 series (enterprise level drones not included in the free trial).
Almost everything DJI does is top-quality, and the simulator does not disappoint here either. The look and feel of the environment, the physics of the drone flights, and the wide selection of flight scenarios all make for a very robust simulator.
The DJI drone simulator is a great program for professional or enterprise level pilots who want to get some training experience before flying their expensive equipment in a real-world scenario. It’s also a great way to get additional training in specific skills such as powerline inspections or search and rescue missions.
The simulator is also a good way to test out the feel and performance of an enterprise level drone before you actually buy one. While it’s not exactly the same as flying the real thing, it can give you a pretty good idea of how a certain drone model will handle in certain conditions. The access to a whole range of drone models to test out is reason enough to try this simulator.
The simulator is strictly limited to DJI drones. If you don’t have a DJI drone, and don’t plan to get one, you can still benefit from the practice with a DJI drone model on the simulator, but it won’t be quite the same as getting to “train” on your own type of drone.
The DJI drone simulator is designed to help train commercial drone pilots, and does not include any FPV flight modes. If you’re looking for a drone simulator to help you learn to fly FPV, even if it’s the DJI FPV drone, this one won’t be any help.
Being as this simulator is geared toward enterprise operations, it should come as no surprise that it comes at a much higher cost than most of the other drone flight training software programs out there. At $1,350, this simulator is a serious investment.
- Mavic Air
- DJI Smart Controller
- Phantom 4
- Phantom 4 Advanced
- Phantom 4 Pro
- Phantom 4 Pro V2.0
- Matrice 100
- Matrice 600
- Matrice 600 Pro
- Inspire 1 Series
- Lightbridge 2
Learn more about the DJI Drone Simulator here.
7. Zephyr Drone Simulator
- Drone pilot education training program with built-in classroom management tools.
- Accurate physics to replicate real-world flight.
- FAA guidelines are incorporated into flights, and relevant warnings are included in training.
- Continual program development and updates to include new training modules and aircraft.
- Customizable weather settings to enhance training experience.
- Large selection of customizable drone models.
- FPV and VLOS flight modes available.
The Zephyr drone simulator is purpose-built to be an education tool, and is unlike any of the other simulators on this list in that it incorporates an instructor control and feedback aspect. Students enrolled in a training course will have their flight statistics sent to an instructor for review and feedback. It’s not limited to classroom use, however, and professionals can use the training program individually.
The training focus is even extended to the realm of safety training, with built in FAA safety guidelines built into the program to help pilots learn to operate within the parameters of FAA rules.
The physics and customizability make the program an accurate and realistic training tool, with easy transfer to real-world flights. A huge selection of training modules and situations make Zephyr applicable to almost any commercial or even hobby drone user.
Zephyr is also quite reasonably priced as far as professional drone training simulators go, with the basic package beginning at $75. Of course you can also test out the free trial before deciding if this is the right simulator for you.
For those who just want everything in one package, the pricing structure of Zephyr (for individual professional purchase) may be a bit confusing. A number of different optional add-ons can be purchased separately, but it may be hard to know where to start. Starting with the free trial may help you determine which package you need.
Zephyr is primarily a commercial drone training simulator, and if you’re just after a fun introduction to flying a drone virtually, this is a bit pricey. And if you’re wanting to get into FPV racing, Zephyr doesn’t offer that style of flight training.
- XBox 360, XBox One, and Playstation controllers
- Spektrum DXe, Dx9, Dx6i
- Hobby King 6-CH RC Flight Simulator Controller
- Interlink Elite by Futaba
- FlySky FS-i6s, FS-T6
- Taranis FrSky X9D Plus
- Futaba: T6EX, T14SG, T8FG
- Iris+ FlySky FS-TH9x
Learn more about the Zephyr Drone Simulator here.
8. droneSimPro Drone Flight Simulator
- Custom-built flight engine allows the simulator to replicate the real-world physics of drone flight.
- Customizable environments with realistic lighting and terrain features.
- Two customizable drone types including Phantom 2 and Phantom 3.
- Supports USB controllers for flight control.
- Flight scenarios include obstacle courses, a house fire, and open field flight.
The droneSimPro Drone Flight Simulator offers a fairly true to life flight experience, thanks to the flight engine in the software program. This makes it more accurate in the feel and response of the controls. As a training flight simulator, this is important for helping pilots transition to real-world drone flight.
At only $29.99, droneSimPro is a good deal. Many of the higher end training simulators cost a whole lot more than that, without improving a whole lot on the actual real-world feel of the flight experience.
The flight scenarios are realistic and satisfying as well, especially with the ability to customize the environments. You can recreate almost any type of scenario that you need to fly in real life, and practice flying it in the simulator first, whether it’s a burning building or a tower inspection. This is great for drone pilot training purposes.
Only two drone types are currently replicated in the simulator, the Phantom 2 and Phantom 3. While this is great if one of these is the drone you’re flying, it doesn’t give quite the same feel as getting to fly your own drone model in a simulator. More drone models are promised to be coming soon.
Also a drawback is the short list of supported controllers. While gaming controllers are great, they also don’t give quite the same experience as learning to fly with your real flight controller. A longer list of compatible controllers is promised to be coming soon as well.
- Xbox One
- Xbox 360
- Xbox 360 (Gamestop brand)
- Playstation 3
9. RealFlight RF9.5 Drone Simulator
- Great physics for real-world flight experience.
- Over 170 different RC and drone models.
- Over 40 different flying sites.
- Ability to add and edit aircraft and flying sites for additional customization.
- Game-like challenges, multiplayer options, and VR headset compatibility for added fun.
- Lessons to develop photography skills.
The excellent physics of the RealFlight RF9.5 simulator make for a good training tool, providing a more life-like flight experience. And the wide selection of realistic flight scenarios only adds to the training benefit of the program.
Challenges and lessons make learning and practicing intuitive and fun, keeping you engaged in learning. Flight training is not the only thing to learn on the RealFlight simulator either, as other lessons in the program help you practice photography and videography skills as well.
The compatibility with a radio controller is a huge plus here, as it gives you practice using your actual flight controller rather than a gaming controller. You can buy the Spektrum controller that comes with the program, or use one of your own, as quite a variety of radios are supported.
At $179.99, this flight simulator is rather expensive as they come, and this is due in large part to the fact that it’s not just a drone simulator, but includes such a huge selection of RC models. If RC is your game, that’s a benefit, but if you’re just into drones and want to practice drone flight, you’re paying for a whole lot of simulator functionality that you’re never going to use.
Another big drawback is that the RealFlight RF9.5 simulator is only compatible with a PC, so if you’re on a Mac, you’re out of luck.
- USB 2.0 Port
- Compatible FM or FM-selectable transmitter
Learn more about the RealFlight RF9.5 Flight Simulator here.
When you’re looking for a drone simulator, you probably have a pretty good idea whether you’re looking for FPV style drone practice, or whether you’re wanting to get some training in commercial drone operations. This will obviously help you narrow down which type of simulator is the best fit for you. But for the merely curious, those that just want to try out some drone flying without the risk of crashing, it might be a harder choice. In that case, my recommendation would be to try out a few of the free trials and see which style of flying suits your fancy.
While some of these simulators are better than others in terms of flight physics, graphics, drone models, customizability, variety of flight environments, etc., each one has its own band of supporters claiming that this is the best one out there. Ultimately which one you think is the best will depend on your goals, your budget and your preferences.
Image Credit: DRL